Monday, August 22, 2016

Best Economic Essay in Ten Years

What have I been saying?  After delineating good and bad credit, finally someone in academia is saying it!
Only then can we understand how the bubble economy’s pseudo-prosperity was fueled by credit flows — debt pyramiding — to inflate asset markets in the process of transferring ownership rights to whomever was willing to take on the largest debt.
Again and again I have pointed out the winners only had to be willing to take on the most debt.  I thought I was the only person pointing this out.  Comes now a couple of professors who explains well why if you have paycheck, property or pension, for the next forty years, you're toast.
That is what makes the seemingly empirical accounting format used in most economic analysis an expression of creditor-oriented pro-rentier ideology. Households do not receive incomes from the houses they live in. The value of the “services” their homes provide does not increase simply because house prices rise, as the national accounts fiction has it. The financial sector does not produce goods or even “real” wealth. And to the extent that it produces services, much of this serves to redirect revenues to rentiers, not to generate wages and profits.
Some will argue, all those tellers and loan officers and Vice Presidents and janitors and rent-a-cops are certainly being paid wages generated and stockholders and Presidents get profits.  No.  They are just minion-rentiers who are tossed some redirected revenues for making actual the redirection in toto.

Here is an important point, upon which I will intrude...
Economic theory today is in some ways a step backward by expunging the nineteenth-century view — and indeed that of medieval economics and even of classical antiquity — with regard to how banking and high finance intrude into economic life to impose austerity and polarize the distribution of wealth and income.
How is this distribution of wealth effected?  Titles.  Ex nihilo credit is available to borrowers from hegemon-chartered entities.  People who are wholly engaged in loaning credit, something from nothing, are able to attach at least a partial lien, if not a clear title, to at least a portion if the means of production and real wealth such as homes.  A slice here, a chunk there, it can add up.  Their slice is purely inflation, but since all loan-involved investments are marginal, and the lender's title is superior, when the economic actor is overwhelmed in his measure, all spoils go to the lender.  It is a neat trick.  Wait a minute.  It is just the pigeon drop scam!
What you don't know at this point is that your new acquaintances are running a scam, and you're the target. The first stranger earned your confidence, so that when the second stranger presented a moneymaking opportunity, you had someone you trusted telling you that it was a good idea. The first tip-off to the pigeon drop, then, is when you find yourself with a new friend, followed soon after by a chance for the two of you to cash in with the help of a third person.
Your new acquaintance is a real estate broker who instills the confidence, and the second stranger is the banker, who can make a money maker happen, a home (or a job ((a degree)) or a car...  you name it.)  It's the same set up over and over, but it is legal.  There is nothing in the bag of value, except what money or title obligations you put in.  Later, you realize you got nothing, they got the titles.  Titles to your future income stream. Except no one hides this, because it is enforced by law.

For example, in one instance, as homes are sold and debt is assigned, who has the title to the goods?  Well, you, as long as you can make payments and pay taxes. But one gross distortion is since the 1980s in USA you cannot get a mortgage without very special circumstances (maybe farmland).  Now you get a deed of trust, which allows banks to fast track foreclose, so they can get the home resold faster.

James Tobin already in 1984 worried that “we are throwing more and more of our resources, including the cream of our youth, into financial activities remote from the production of goods and services” (Tobin 1984, 14)
Yes, a specialty retailer who had a storied life was closing down and lamented we lost two, maybe three generations of entrepreneurs.  They went instead for the skim.  After noting a business loan is paid for out of the proceeds from the new means of production created, home loans must be paid out of the current income of the borrower.  The house itself provides no income.
Mortgages are also special in that real estate assets have grown into the largest asset market in all western economies, and the one with the most widespread participation. Following classical analysis, if every real estate asset bought on credit skims off the income of the owner-borrower, then the rise in home ownership since the 1970s has sharply increased rent extraction and turned it into a flow of interest to mortgage lenders. 
Everything changed in the 1970s.  When Nixon took us off the gold standard (lite).
Bank credit to the nonbank “asset” sector (mainly for real estate, but also LBOs and takeover loans to buy companies, margin loans for stock and bond arbitrage, and derivative bets) does not enter the “real sector” to finance tangible capital formation or wages. Its principal immediate effect is to inflate prices for property and other assets. Recent econometric analysis confirms that mortgage credit causes house price to increase (Favara and Imbs 2014) — and not just vice versa, as in the demand-driven textbook credit market theories.
Any real estate agent in the 1990s could have told you that if you could afford a $200,000 house at 9% interest, you can afford a $300,000 house a 6% interest.  Academics figured this out only in 2014? So, when the interest rates dropped from 9% to 6% did people trade up to more or better homes?  No way.  A $200,000 house at 9% interest becomes a $300,000 house at 6% interest.  Imagine how overpriced the homes people are getting now at 4%.  That $200,000 house is now priced at $600,000.  If and when the economy crashes, wages, income, etc goes back to at least lower, one way or another.  But the nominal debt stays at $600,000.  Because of your marginal exposure, Warren Buffett picks it up for pennies of ex nihilo credit on the dollar for Berkshire Hathaway, and you must at best bankrupt your "loss."
How does this asset-price inflation affect the economy of production and wages and profits? In due course this process involves increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio by raising household debt, mortgage debt, corporate and state, local and government debt levels. This debt requires the real sector to pay debt service — a fact that prompted Benjamin Friedman (2009, 34) to write that “an important question — which no one seems interested in addressing — is what fraction of the economy’s total returns … is absorbed up front by the financial industry.”
Yes.  Good question.  And the follow-up question would be, to whom does it go?  The answer will be, the 1%.
To ignore this rising fraction is to ignore debt and its consequence: debt deflation of the “real” economy. Of course, the reason why debt leveraging continued so long was precisely because credit to the FIRE sector inflated asset prices faster than debt service rose — as long as interest rates were falling. The tidal wave of post-1980 central bank and commercial bank liquidity drove interest rates down, increasing capitalization ratios for rental income corporate cash flow.
He is hitting on something here... credit inflation, debt deflation.  Two sides of the same coin? I'll have to turn that over in my mind.  And this is good stuff:
A debt-leveraged rise in asset prices has a liability counterpart on the balance sheet of households and firms. Homes, commercial properties, stocks, and bonds are loaded down with debt as they are traded many times by investors or speculators taking out larger and larger loans at easier and easier terms: lower down-payments, zero-amortization (interest-only) loans and outright “liars’ loans” with brokers and their bankers filing false income declarations and crooked property valuations, to be packaged and sold to pension funds, German Landesbanks, and other institutional investors. Each new debt-leveraged sale may bid up prices for these assets.
But the credit can be repaid (with interest) only by withdrawing payment from the “real” sector (out of profits and wages), or by selling financialized assets, or borrowing yet more credit (“Ponzi lending”). The rising indebtedness approaching the 2008 crest was carried not so much by diverting current income away from buying goods and services or by selling financial assets, but by loading down the economy’s balance sheet and national income with yet more debt (that is, by borrowing the interest falling due, for example, by home equity loans). What kept the “Great Moderation” income growth and inflation levels so “moderate” was an exponential flood of credit (i.e., debt) to carry the accumulation and compounding of interest. It was like having to finance a chain letter on an economy-wide scale, with banks creating the credit to keep the scheme going.
And this...  well, it also constrains the creation of means of production the would generate a surplus from what it produces.  What cannot go on will end at some point.
This is the institutional reality behind the negative correlation coefficient of credit and income growth, reported in the previous section. In fact, to assess credit for its income growth potential is to miss its true function in the rentier economic system. The FIRE sector’s real estate, financial system, monopolies, and other rent-extracting “tollbooth” privileges are not valued in terms of their contribution to production or living standards, but by how much they can extract from the economy. By classical definition, these rentier payments are not technologically necessary for production, distribution, and consumption. They are not investments in the economy’s productive capacity, but extraction from the surplus it produces.
Now this needs a bit of explication.
Financial markets can grow sustainably — that is, without rising fragility — only when loans to the real sector are self-amortizing. For instance, the thirty-year home mortgages typical after World War II were paid over the working life of homebuyers. The interest charges often added up to more than the property’s seller received, but the loans financed about two million new homes built each year in the United States in the early post-war decades, creating enough economic growth to pay down the loans.
Things were very different then. Home loans were for mortgages, not deeds of trust, financed largely by Savings and Loans and Credit Unions in which the interest rate, about the same today, 4.75%. in 1955, barely covered the costs of administration of the loan.  The loan was against money,  the cash in the pay envelope deposited on the first Friday of the month into the S&L or CU, backed by gold and silver.  And the loan terms were usually 20 years, because that is all it took to comfortably pay off a note.  There was no Freddie Mac to create inflation by vacuuming up as much paper as anyone could generate.  That would not come until... wait for it... the 1970s.  But there were assumable loans, meaning instead of flipping homes and inflating values, I might get a job offer in another town and just pass my mortgage onto someone else who continued the payments.  The S&L just wanted its money back, could care less from whom.  So yes real estate markets can grow sustainably, but nothing we have today resembles when last we had a sustainable market.

And this too:
Many U.S. students could not attain a college degree without student loans.
 Not true, false dilemma. The fact is EZCredit is merely more attractive, buy-now pay-later, than a pay-as-you-go degree, granted that ex nihilo credit woefully overpriced an ever degraded degree.
In addition to showing that the financial industry accounted for 7.9 percent of U.S. GDP in 2007 (up from 2.8 percent in 1950), they calculated that much of this took the form of fees and markups — the quintessential transfer payments. 
OK, useful figure, let's call it the 5 point growth.  That 5 point growth generated, as this essay demonstrates, a false economy, unreal GDP proportion reported as GDP. So then we must ask, what per cent of 5 point growth is of the distortion of reported GDP, generated by financial engineering?  And better yet, net of false economy FIRE financial engineering portion, to what does the "7.9% of GDP" truly amount?
This raises a vital question for today’s economies. Can debt-financed rising asset prices make economies richer on a sustainable basis? If the aim of raising asset prices is to increase the capitalization rate of rents and profits by lowering interest rates, can pension funds, insurance companies, and retirees save enough for their retirement out of current earnings, or can they live by capital gains alone?
As for today's economies, the question is moot.  Retirees are being "sicked-in" to hospices, shaken down for all of their assets, and dispatched at necessary rates to help maintain balance.  So the question is not vital for today, today's retirees are being queue'd up for extinction in this Darwinist polity.  The question is vital to whomever makes it through the progressing disintegration.
Financial and other investors focus on total returns, defined as income plus “capital” gains. But although the original U.S. income tax code treated capital gains as income, these asset-price gains do not appear in the NIPA. The logic of their exclusion seems to be that what is not seen has less of a chance of being taxed. That is why financial assets are called “invisibles,” in contrast to land as the most visible “hard” asset.
Yes, as I have been saying here, when we switched from vendor-financing for industry and commerce to bank finance starting in the 1970s, that which was near impossible to tax for the impracticality of it, such diffuse records, now became easy to tax with ex nihilo credit ascendency since the records could be found in one place: banks.

That this was a conscious agenda item is revealed in the fact when the FED was first set up back in 1913, the FED engaged in an intensive campaign for business to switch from vendor financing to Trade Acceptances ostensibly to improve commercial efficiency.  "Let the banks process your receivables for you."  It did not work, USA business did not fall for that ruse.  But with ex nihilo credit after 1971, it worked like a dream. No a ten cent retail purchase can be tracked and taxed.

Here again, as perspicacious as this essay is, it is prolegomenous.  It will be interesting to know what the prescriptions are, just how to save the Hegemon's system from its greediest outliers?  Sure, whoever borrowed the most won for a while, but not any more.  They are dropping like flies.  Now let's discover what the sustainable limits are in the pigreon drop scam.
It is an economy where resources flow to the FIRE sector rather than to moderate-return fixed capital formation. 
Yes, to what I have referred here elsewhere on the blog as "exceptional wealth."  the 1% did not earn their exceptional wealth, in a free market.  They stole it fair an square, legitimately.

Should it be redistributed?  No way!  Simply delegitimize charging interest, that is deregulate finance at least as far as making interest a non-enforceable contract item, just as gambling debts are non-enforceable in USA, and watch the "wealth" first deflate as it is marked to market, and then redistribute perfectly as the accumulators lose the wherewithal to ever corrupt more and more players: economists, politicians, professors, Wall Street actors, industry, religion, law, ad nauseum.  Delegitimize and redistribution happens automatically and fairly.  Will capital fly?  Sure, when it is that light, ligher than air, mere notional, it sure will.  But where?  "I have $10 billion tallied in ex nihilo credit obligations due me, will you give me refuge in Switzerland?"  "Convert it to gold first, then show up in our airport.  Good luck."  Good luck indeed getting away from the Hegemon with that.
Such economies polarize increasingly between property owners and industry/labor, creating financial tensions as imbalances build up. It ends in tears as debts overwhelm productive structures and household budgets. Asset prices fall, and land and houses are forfeited.
A good portion of it forfeited to the state, hence its recurrence.  The Hegemon could care less if this is unwound rationally, fairly peacefully, or if there is a world war.  Note when the Soviet empire crashed, existentially ended, all of the previous players remained at the top. The gentle unwinding process of eliminating the legitimization of interest (for without it ex nihilo credit will disappear too) would be acceptable to the hegemon, just as the surprise insurgency of a Donald Trump is acceptable (and the moment he is not acceptable, he'll get a serious headache, like a Kennedy).

The summary is excellent, I recommend highly clicking on the link up top and reading the whole thing.

Somehow, I haven't figured it out yet, and apparently no one else has either, if ex nihilo credit and negative interest rates are correlated, and the significance thereof.  There may be a clue in ex nihilo credit inflation/price deflation. I dunno. Whoever figures this out will be so far ahead of everyone else.

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